Every year in the United States, about 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that results from asbestos inhalation. It can strike as many as fifty years after initial exposure.
Since mesothelioma is hard to detect, many people are diagnosed at a point when there’s no definitive cure. For those who catch it earlier, however, chances for survival are improving. As with all types of cancer, survival rates depend on many factors, including:
- The stage of mesothelioma (1-4). People with early (Stage 1) cancer have much better chances of surviving than late-stage sufferers.
- Whether or not the patient opts to have surgery (survival rates tend to be higher with surgery.
- The type of mesothelioma. Epithelial mesothelioma generally has a better prognosis sarcomatoid and biphasic mesothelioma.
- Where the tumor is located. Tumors near the heart are harder to treat, for example, vs. tumors in the right lung or lower organs.
- Overall health, including age and knowledge of recent blood work. People with normal hemoglobin levels, platelet counts, and white blood cell counts, tend to live longer.
Survival times for mesothelioma sufferers have historically been low – about four to eighteen months after diagnosis. Yet prominent researchers in the field, including Dr. David Sugarbaker, say even late-stage mesothelioma victims shouldn’t give up hope.
“Mesothelioma is not the death sentence that it was 20 years ago,” said Dr. Sugarbaker, in a recent television interview. “There is effective therapy. For the majority of patients who are deemed candidates for an aggressive treatment strategy, quality of life extension is possible.”
Sugarbaker advocates a combination of tumor removal surgery and high dosages of chemotherapy drugs.
Other physicians, including Joseph Friedberg, co-director of the Mesothelioma Program at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, say less invasive treatments might also help cure mesothelioma.
“Patients…who underwent lung-sparing surgery and light-based cancer treatment, have experienced unusually long overall survival rates,” said Friedberg, in a recent interview. Friedberg’s findings were published in the June 2011 issue of the Annals of Thoracic Surgery.